Anticipation is building for a potentially heated public hearing process that swings into high gear in Nucla next Wednesday, Nov. 7, to determine the fate of the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill.
Richard Dana, a retired federal judge and co-founder of the Judicial Arbiter Group, presides over the days-long affair. He is currently accepting written public comments and will continue to accept them throughout the course of the hearing, with a deadline of Monday, Nov. 12, at 5 p.m. The best way to submit written comments is via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dana intends to publish the comments online. He has not yet set up a system for doing so, but “the public comments will be, in fact, public,” he said.
Dana will also hear oral comments from the public each day of the hearing. On Wednesday, Nov. 7 through Friday, Nov. 9, comments will be taken starting at 4 p.m. The entirety of Monday, Nov. 12, has also been set aside as a public comment period, starting at 8:30 a.m. and going “until people have run out of things to say.” A previous Watch article misstated that public comments on this day would only take place in the afternoon.
Although it’s possible that the oral comment period will last all day long, Dana doubts this will actually happen. “When I’ve done this before, the public comments have only taken about two hours,” he said. “Most people tend to exhaust themselves within a few minutes. They tend to be making a simple statement that they are either for it or against it. People who have a lot to say tend to write it out.”
The setting for the hearing “will look like a courtroom,” Dana said. “There will be a lot of lawyers.”
Apart from the public comment segments, the rest of the hearing will consist of formal evidentiary process, as lawyers for both sides examine and cross-examine a list of 25 witnesses. Most likely, proceedings will conclude Tuesday, Nov. 13.
Much of it will be “pretty scripted,” Dana predicted, although Travis Stills, the attorney representing Sheep Mountain Alliance, might “drop some fire into the room.”
Transcripts of the hearing will be available for purchase, but Dana said he is not sure if they will be available in real time as the hearing unfolds.
Dana expressed his hope that people will not feel intimidated about appearing and making their feelings known. “If someone wants to share their thoughts, that’s what I’m here for,” he said.
At a similar hearing in Naturita which Dana presided over some time ago, a whole school bus full of fourth graders showed up, and he listened to what each of them had to say.
The hearing will be held at the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 635 located at 1045, Main Street in Nucla.
The proposed Piñon Ridge Mill, located about 12 miles west of Naturita in the Paradox Valley, is designed to process uranium and vanadium ores. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is holding the hearing to take public comment on an Environmental Impact Assessment that will guide its decision whether to grant a Radioactive Materials License to Energy Fuels for the Piñon Ridge facility.
A previous permit which CDPHE had granted was invalidated when a Denver judge upheld a legal complaint filed by the Telluride-based environmental advocacy group Sheep Mountain Alliance and others that CDPHE had failed to conduct a proper public hearing and review process.